The term ‘Archival’ is widely used and abused by suppliers, perhaps without them realising. In the truest sense of the word, ‘archival’ is supposed to mean that the box is suitable for long-term storage without it causing damage to the contents. Unfortunately, as there are no specific standards, the term ‘archival’ is often used wrongly, and to the point where in some instances it has become meaningless. We use the word archival in it’s true form and context and this article will explain what you should look out for to ensure you are truly buying the right box for your long-term storage.
What are archival boxes made of?
In order for a box to be archival it shouldn’t cause any damage or risk of damage to the contents. One of the most important elements of this is the material that the box is made from. Standard cardboard, PVC and some other materials will eventually degrade and become acidic. To be truly archival a box must be acid-free and stay acid free.
Is normal cardboard archival? No. In the case of standard cardboard made from low quality unrefined pulp, acid will eventually develop as the board ages. Some board may be marketed as acid-free, as it may meet that criteria on manufacture, but will eventually become acidic. Valued collections, artwork, documents, anything you want to protect should never be stored in standard cardboard.
Are plastic boxes archival? Some. It’s important for plastics to be inert. Any plastic containing PVC could eventually break-down developing damaging acids such as hydrochloric acid in the storage environment. Plastics that have degraded will become brittle and break apart meaning collections are no longer protected. If you are unsure, plastic is best avoided.
What material should an archival box be made from? Archival boxes really need to be made from material that will protect and not eventually damage the contents, that’s our speciality! There are standards for materials that help check whether it is suitable for long term storage. Our corrugated board is acid-free (ISO 6588-1:2012), buffered to protect contents from migrant acidity, and passed PAT (ISO 18916:2007). You can read the full material specification here.
What damage will acid do? Acid developed in the storage environment could prematurely age the contents and cause permanent and irreparable damage. Artwork on paper might become yellow/brown, plastics may become yellow, brittle and break. There are many ways acid can permanently damage various media so it is best to choose acid free and buffered materials for most purposes.
What else should you consider when buying an archival box? Boxes need to be held together, that might be with glue, staples, or like ours which are folded into shape without either. Glues can be a source of acid and could leach into the storage area. Staples can rust and leave sharp points which could catch contents.
Coloured boxes or boxes with ink applied could lead to staining of contents. It’s important that any inks or dyes will not bleed, if there were to be a leak and the box was wet, recovering stained items could be much more difficult.